What is Freemasonry? A Response to Tim Bryce

What is Freemasonry

The question of What is Freemasonry has been one I’ve tried to answer myself for many years. In a recent column, Tim Bryce took a stab at the elusive answer in a very astute and concise fashion coming to the ultimate conclusion that Freemasonry is a fraternity as “… an environment of companionship dedicated to the social development of its members.” While I don’t think his conclusion is to far from the mark, how he got there bares some consideration.

Did his conclusions go far enough?

In his conclusion, Tim says that Freemasonry is, at its core, a fraternity – debunking the notion of it being a club, philanthropy, religion or a corporation.  So, allow me to begin by considering what exactly a fraternity is.

The word fraternity has it’s origins in Old French, fraternité , with even older use from Latin, fraternitatem, which was defined as brotherhood. Rightly so, the notion of the word frater, as Tim says, was the Latin equivalent of the word brother, a term still used in some esoteric groups in present day.

The notion of the term fraternity has even older origins dating back to antiquity in the notion of the mystery cults of Rome (such as the Mithraic rites) evolving through the centuries to the trade guilds later to be embodied in American Culture through open organizations of association, at least so the Encyclopedic entry in Wikipedia would suggest.  That same article says that the American social enterprise that became Democracy was essentially an outgrowth of this notion of fraternity in that religious freedom gave cause for ideological association giving rise to a “nation of joiners” that Alexis de Tocqueville (1830) and Arthur M. Schlesinger (1944) saw fit to characterize American as.

But, that exploration may take us to far afield.  I will say that the de Tocqueville and Schlesinger’s conclusion has been challenged in more recent scholarship not as outgrowths of democracy but as institutionalization’s of civil society and the need for public engagement – an idea that turns the no religion or politics onto its head given the depth to which both are, today, the main focus of our present society.

As a fraternity, Tim’s conclusion is that while not a club, philanthropy, religion or political action committee, Freemasonry is a place where, and I’m paraphrasing here, moral men meet on common ground to act rightly to one another.  He concludes saying that men gathered like this for no more reason than to associate so.

While I can’t find a disagreement on that conclusion, one has to ask gather to for what end?  Personally, that conclusion has the taste of a mutual appreciation society, where members merely gather to congratulate one another on rank promotion and fine regalia acquisitions while debating on the cost of linen cleaning and the use of pasta sauce. This might sound glib, but if that were the case, why include the initiatic trappings to make an individual a Mason in the first place? It is in that rituals, and the ideas behind them, that I see the difference in there mere aspect of being a fraternity of self congratulators.

hindu parable about an elephnat
Blind Men Appraising an Elephant
Artist: Ohara Donshu, Japanese, died 1857
Medium: Ink and colors on paper
Place Made: Japan
Dates: early 19th century
Period: Edo Period

But, let’s take some time to analyze the elements Tim suggests the fraternity is not.  To do this, I we need to invoke an old Hindu parable on avoiding dogmatism.

In the parable on how to define an elephant we might find a good approach to how to define this conundrum of what Freemasonry is by describing its parts, or more precisely, the elements that Tim says Freemasonry is not. The Hindu telling of the parable goes something along these lines:

A number of blind men came to an elephant. Somebody told them that it was an elephant. The blind men asked, ‘What is the elephant like?’ and they began to touch its body. One of them said: ‘It is like a pillar.’ This blind man had only touched its leg. Another man said, ‘The elephant is like a husking basket.’ This person had only touched its ears. Similarly, he who touched its trunk or its belly talked of it differently. In the same way, he who has seen the Lord in a particular way limits the Lord to that alone and thinks that He is nothing else.
– Ramakrishna, an Indian mystic of the 19th-century

The conclusion of the parable is that no one individual is capable of defining the elephant by merely describing its parts.  That only in the summations of their totality was any consensus possible as to what, exactly, the elephant was, and even then a deaf man could still draw other conclusions rendering even further definitions.  Ultimately, the moral is that while we seek to define something, the only way to do so is by adequately and completely describing its parts.

In his piece, Tim gives us several of components saying that Freemasonry has variously been defined as a club, a corporation, a religion, a political action committee, and philanthropy.  To each of these he says that they miss the mark in defining the institution coming to the conclusion that it is merely a fraternity of association where these elements may, or may not, take place.  I argue that, to the contrary, Masonry is all of these things at various levels and at the same time while cloaked in the old fraternal notion of a fraternal society of common cause.

Is Freemasonry a Club?

While a seeming antiquated notion today, at one point in the 20th century clubs were about as diffuse as the subjects they gathered to associate about.  Garden clubs, chess clubs, book clubs, motorcycle clubs, car clubs, hunting clubs, gun clubs, card clubs… the list could go on and on. DMOZ, the open source directory, lists 132,542 clubs and more than 10,000 organizations. In some respects, Freemasonry is one just another one of these affinity clubs.

Is Freemasonry a Corporation?

The U.S. Small Business Association defines a corporation as “an independent legal entity owned by shareholders which means that “the corporation itself, not the shareholders that own it, is held legally liable for the actions and debts the business incurs.”  In Tim’s piece, he rightly states that a corporation is profitable in nature, which is the argument he makes for why Freemasonry is not a corporation.  Yet, without some profit, the organization cannot grow or anticipate any developments that might necessitate some capital investment (a new lodge, educational materials, new jewels, and so on).  At some level, even as a non-profit organization Freemasonry should function as a 501(c)10, which the IRS describes as:

A domestic fraternal society, order, or association must meet the following requirements:

  1. It must have a fraternal purpose. An organization has a fraternal purpose if membership is based on a common tie or the pursuit of a common object.  The organization must also have a substantial program of fraternal activities.
  2. It must operate under the lodge system. Operating under the lodge system requires, at a minimum, two active entities: (i) a parent organization; and (ii) a subordinate organization (called a lodge, branch, or the like) chartered by the parent and largely self-governing.
  3. It must not provide for the payment of life, sick, accident, or other benefits to its members. The organization may arrange with insurance companies to provide optional insurance to its members without jeopardizing its exempt status.
  4. It must devote its net earnings exclusively to religious, charitable, scientific, literary, educational, and fraternal purposes.
  5. It must be a domestic organization, that is, it must be organized in the United States.

So then, in this configuration, essentially, Freemasonry, under the Grand Lodge system, is a Corporation that does not take a profit, dedicating its net earnings exclusively to religious, charitable, scientific, literary, educational, and fraternal purposes. This may not apply at the lodge level, but I would suspect that most TempleBoards function as corporations to manage the infrastructure investment of the lodge building.  Does this make Freemasonry a corporation?  I would say yes and no in that while not a “corporate body” with the many denominations of Freemasonry, at its management level, it is a corporation where the lodges annually elected leaders (Worshipful Masters) to vote at shareholder meetings annually in the Grand Lodge communications electing new corporate leadership.

This corporate idea is probably most observable in the Shrine and in the Scottish Rite, both of which having many nonprofit corporations under their dominion.

mark twain on religionIs Freemasonry a Religion?

Tim makes another point in his piece that Freemasonry is not a religion, and while nearly every tract written, published and produced repeats this mantra (right down into the very landmarks of the institution) it does promote a religious lifestyle.  Further, it embraces a wide acceptance of religious thought (empirically) seeing all faiths as equal by 1) acknowledging all faiths and 2) embracing them in common cause in the lodge.

Interestingly, the early Unitarian preacher William Ellery Channing (d.October, 1842) would say that “there is but one thing essential in religion and this is the doing of God’s will” but in doing so in communion, in the same sermon he says:

It is not with the voice only that man communicates with man Nothing is so eloquent as the deep silence of a crowd A sigh a low breathing sometimes pours into us our neighbour’s soul more than a volume of words There is a communication more subtle than freemasonry between those who feel alike How contagious is holy feeling.

The point of making this reference is that while Freemasonry does not espouse a religious practice, it certainly exudes a devout religious timbre that its religious tolerance allows to resonate through its many parts.

Is Freemasonry a Political Action Committee?

This was an interesting inclusion and one that I had not considered before in conjunction to Freemasonry.  The purpose of a PAC, says Opensecrets.org, is the “raising and spending money to elect and defeat candidates” representing “business, labor or ideological interests.”

While no Masonic PAC exists (you can check yourself by consulting PACRONYMS, which is an alphabetical list of acronyms, abbreviations, initials, and common names of federal political action committees (PACs) identifying committees when their full names are not disclosed on campaign finance reports. My search yielded no Masonic named organizations)

What is interesting is what defines a PAC. At the Federal Level, a PAC is an organization that receives or spends more than $1,000 for the purpose of influencing a federal election.  Politics is that flip side of the coin to religion as taboo topics to discuss in lodge, a point Tim makes succinctly. But another point that Tim makes is that while Freemasonry believes (and actively promotes) patriotism, citizenship, and good government, its history also boasts a healthy degree of civic activism, especially in it’s fraternal political patriarchs in the likes of Famous Freemasons George Washington and nine of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence. Even the Boston Tea party, while unverifiable, was planned in a ‘community center’ that sported a square and compass above its door.

Does that make Freemasonry a Political Action Committee? Probably not, but what it does suggest to me is that the gathering of like minded individuals given to common cause of idealism and faith, could still organize an activity of a political nature outside of the regular opening and closing of a lodge room in the same way they could plan a fishing trip together or organize a lodge movie night.


Is Freemasonry a Philanthropy

Tim makes a good point here in saying that Masons help others within their capacity to do so, without mandate, and peripheral goal.  While I see this as fundamentally correct, I think he equates the notion of philanthropy as holding weekly cupcake sales or canned food drives.  While I don’t mean this as a slight to Tim, I think when you look at the many charities that Masonry in some way started, influenced, or contributed to; one can’t help but be overwhelmed by the idea of just how much philanthropy is at work behind the scenes.  Remember, too, one of the chief articles of incorporation is to give to charitable causes, a task often instituted at the Grand Lodge level.  But some other past examples of tremendous Masonic philanthropy include the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, built with millions of contributions,subscriptions and donations, in an era of much higher income disparity, to the present day Shrine Hospitals for Children and Scottish Rite Speech and Language programs.

While institutionally, neither of these two examples predicates the reason for being as an organization, both are examples of a deeply invested attribute of Freemasonry, namely brotherly love, which, by its Latin name, is Charity.  So while masonry itself may not be philanthropic, its does encompass the notion of a love towards mankind in its expression of brotherly love (hence the maxim brotherly love, relief, truth).  In some sense, philanthropy is the very thing that Masonry is trying to instill in those who seek out that common cause.

So What is Freemasonry?

This brings us back to the ultimate conclusion then of what the fraternity is to those who have sought it out.  Is it the sum of its parts or the individual definitions of its pieces?  How can it be none of the things Tim described when, in its operation and its roots it is, essentially, all of those things?  To quote from Tim’s piece:

Freemasonry, therefore, is not a club, philanthropy, a religion, or a PAC. Using symbols from ancient operative Masonry, Freemasonry is a place where men meet “on the level” (to promote equality), act “by the plumb” (rectitude of conduct), and part upon “the square” (to practice morality).

To the contrary, I would suggest that Masonry is a club that, ultimately, promotes philanthropy and religion in the same way a PAC or a corporation functions to grow and promote its own prosperity and agenda.  That, the ideas of the fraternity do go back centuries, but go well past the common vernacular of the 17th century to their more ancient usage in antiquity to the mystery cults of association by common cause.  The only difference is in how we choose to see ourselves – as the individual that the corporate body represents, or as the incorporation of the idea itself in the individual?

Can Freemasonry, like the elephant, be defined in its totality based upon the descriptions of its parts? Or is it a philosophical idea merely codified in its organization for its conduct?  I think Tim got it partially right, but I don’t think you can sum the totality of Freemasonry without rightly considering its parts.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts on What Freemasonry is in the comments below.

Also read:

What is Freemasonry? – Tim Bryce
A Response to Tim Bryce & Greg Stewart – Frederic L. Milliken

Freemason Tim Bryce.

What is Freemasonry?

Is it a club, a corporation, a religious cult, a PAC, a philanthropy, or a fraternity?

In the many years I have been a member, I have always found it fascinating how people perceive the institution of Freemasonry. Some say it is a club, others see it as a philanthropy, but very few seem to understand the concept of fraternity. Further, when we investigate candidates for membership, we normally ask what they are looking for, but rarely do people comprehend precisely what they are joining. This is a compelling argument, one I’ve debated on more than one occasion.

Some of our members see Freemasonry as nothing more than a club, such as a garden club, sports club, country club, etc., an institution we join with some common activity or goal. Clubs are typically run by a set of officers who participate in order to receive some notoriety for their position. This, of course, leads to politics involving backscratching, deceit, backstabbing, and one-up-man-ship. It is not uncommon to find people in such positions who have done nothing of substance in their professional lives and now relish the opportunity to control others. In Freemasonry, we are taught members are all equal in terms of position and opinion. The officers in a Lodge represent a network of duties and responsibilities designed to be implemented by many people, not just one, thereby encouraging teamwork, and eliminating the need for autocratic rule.

There are those who see Freemasonry as a corporation. The problem here is that a corporation is designed to be profitable in nature, Freemasonry is not. True, there are advantages to running any institution like a business, particularly by the state who requires all organizations to run as such, but Freemasonry certainly has no mercenary objectives other than the betterment of its members.

Despite the warnings of conspiracy theorists, Freemasonry does not preach dogma, nor practice religion. A person must believe in a Supreme Being to become a Mason, but his choice of religion is his business, not the Masons. As such, it is not uncommon to sit in a Masonic Lodge with men of many different faiths, thereby promoting religious tolerance.

Freemasonry is not a Political Action Committee (PAC). In order to maintain harmony in the Lodge, politics and religion are two topics forbidden from discussion. Like religion, men of different political beliefs sit in Lodge together in harmony. If anything, Freemasonry promotes the concept of citizenship to the community and patriotism to the country. Those who violate the law and believe in the overthrow of the government by force are not permitted to become Masons. Masons are law-abiding citizens who are taught to use peaceful means to change the government if necessary. As such, Masons hope to become role models for the community.

Perhaps the biggest misconception is that Freemasonry is a philanthropy. It is true Masons give generously to help others in distress, but this is a peripheral goal. It is not intended to spend countless hours on fund raisers or to shake down the Brethren for every available penny. Masons help others if it is within their capacity to do so. Otherwise there is no mandate in Freemasonry to perform philanthropic work. If Masons spend more time on philanthropy than fraternity, then they are subverting the intent of the institution.

Instead, Freemasonry is a fraternity; the original fraternity, and the model for others who came much later, such as college fraternities. The term “fraternity” comes from the Latin word “frater,” meaning “brother.” Fraternity, therefore, is a brotherhood, an environment of companionship dedicated to the social development of its members. The basic tenets of Freemasonry are “Friendship, Morality, and Brotherly Love.” As such, it is designed to build character, devotion, and encourage its members to lead an honorable life. Attending a Masonic Lodge meeting is intended to act as a fortress of solitude for its members, both local and visiting Masons, where they can meet and find solace away from the vermin and troubles of the world. It is a place where men seek understanding, compassion, and to be treated fairly and honestly.

Education is of significant importance in a Masonic Lodge, where Brothers ponder past, present and future problems of morality, responsibility, compassion, and civility. We refer to this as seeking “further light.”

Freemasonry, therefore, is not a club, a philanthropy, a religion, or a PAC. Using symbols from ancient operative Masonry, Freemasonry is a place where men meet “on the level” (to promote equality), act “by the plumb” (rectitude of conduct), and part upon “the square” (to practice morality). For many centuries, Freemasonry is the fraternity where men of character have naturally gravitated to, simply because they yearn for such simple treatment.

Those who think of or practice Freemasonry any other way are missing the boat.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Read A Response to Tim Bryce’s What is Freemasonry?  and A Response to Tim Bryce & Greg Stewart

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see: timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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Freemason Tim Bryce.

Transition of Power

I have been actively involved with a wide variety of nonprofit volunteer organizations over the years, everything from professional trade groups, to local sports organizations, homeowner associations, and fraternal/civic organizations. There is one common denominator shared by such groups, namely, membership is dwindling. The idea of participating in a volunteer organization appears to be a foreign concept to young people. They are simply not joining in the numbers they did years ago. I’m not sure why this is, perhaps it is caused by time constraints or maybe just simple apathy. Consequently, such groups are either closing their doors or making do with less, much less.

Inevitably, as fewer younger people join, older members must stay in charge until someone can take their place. If the same people remain in control for too long, the nonprofit becomes prone to stagnation due to the lack of fresh ideas from new blood. Those few younger people who join feel somewhat intimidated by the old guard still in charge. They shouldn’t as the old guard, in most cases, is looking for some relief and are more than willing to pass the torch assuming the youngster is responsible and competent to fulfill the role. Such organizations need true workers, not just someone trying to make a name for himself. The young member, therefore, needs to prove him/herself in order to gain credibility and trust with the old guard. Assuming the young person can do this, the old guard should be wise enough to step aside and allow the young person to assume their duty.

Consider this though, what happens when the young person doesn’t demonstrate they are capable of doing the job, yet expect to move up the officer chain of command; should they move up? It depends. The obvious answer is, No, the person is not ready and shouldn’t advance. In reality, the young person has become dependent on letting the elders perform the work, and is content to let them do so. Under this scenario, if the elders can hold on until someone else can come forward with the right attitude, they should hang on until then. However, if the old guard is growing weary and it appears the youngsters are taking the elders for granted, you might just want to step aside and let the weight of the office fall squarely on their head of the youngster. In other words, they won’t take responsibility until they are forced to do so and when this happens, they will either sink or swim, and this is the danger of such an approach. If the person fails, the organization may very well suffer for it.

So, we basically have a Catch-22 whereby the younger people develop a general distrust of the elders and vice versa and the nonprofit suffers while everyone jockeys for position. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an easy answer to overcome this problem. Then again, maybe there is, namely “communications.” For any transfer of power there has to be some open communications between the old and the new. They should not be viewed as adversaries as much as allies who think of what is best for the organization overall. The elders should be ready and willing to train their replacements, review policies and procedures with them, along with the various tools and techniques used to fulfill their duties and responsibilities. In turn, the youngsters need to ask a lot of questions. They may very well modify and improve how the job is implemented, but they must first understand the existing system before implementing any changes. Although the elders should monitor the young worker’s activity, they should avoid the temptation of covering for the youngster’s mistakes, otherwise this will create a dependency that is difficult to break. Give the person instruction and advice, but let the younger worker perform the work. It’s not a bad idea to follow-up and review the person’s work as well.

The ideal situation is to appoint younger people as assistants to key officers, thereby learning the roles. After the young person has assumed the role, keep the elder on in an advisory capacity. In other words, one stint as assistant, one stint as the actual officer, and one stint as an adviser. This would greatly facility the transition of power and bring a satisfactory level of conformity to the job. Unfortunately, not enough nonprofit groups do this.

When you discuss the old guard versus the new in nonprofit groups, it can be described as the immovable object meets the irresistible force. The young people think the elders are maintaining a stranglehold on the organization, and the elders think the youngsters are reckless who will ultimately destroy the group. No organization can survive with such deadlock. The two groups must seek common ground for the betterment of the organization overall. One thing is for certain, the old guard cannot do the job forever. At some point they must relinquish control to the younger members who must acclimate into the organization’s culture and assume their responsibilities. If they do not, the organization will slowly grind to a halt. Bottom-line, it is a matter of building trust between young and old and this can only happen through an effective dialog of communications. Only by communicating can we come to understand the strengths and weaknesses of our people.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:

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Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 7:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2011 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Freemason Tim Bryce.

Your Management Style

NOTE:  I originally wrote this post for my management consulting business, but it is just as valid for those people hoping to become a Worshipful Master of a Lodge.  I hope you enjoy it.

I know a young man who was recently promoted to the position of “Project Manager.” This was his first management position and he was naturally a little nervous going into it. Knowing I frequently write on the subject, he asked for my advice as to what to expect. I began by saying management is not for everyone as it represents a leadership position where you become responsible for your subordinates. Some thrive in such a capacity, others prefer being led. I had a friend who was a master machinist and happened to be promoted to supervisor where he would be responsible for five people under him. This distressed him greatly as he worried about their performance. So much so, he developed ulcers and became quite ill. He begged his boss to go back to being a machinist, whereby he quickly regained his health.

Just because you’ve been given the title “Manager” doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly been imbued with certain knowledge. You have to work at it. For example, in the Information Technology industry, it is common to see a successful programmer elevated to analyst, then to project manager, then to I.T. manager. Such a person may have been a great programmer, but that is no qualification for becoming a manager. Not surprising, the Peter Principle is applied whereby the person is elevated to a position above his level of competency and the company suffers for it. In most cases, such I.T. managers have a rather narrow perspective as they tend to think less as managers and more as programmers.

Whenever thrust into the position, a person must develop his/her own unique style of management. Quite often we will try to emulate others we respect, we may also read books and attend seminars to learn management techniques, and solicit advice from our confidants. However, we must realize what works for one person may not for another, and because of this, we have to tailor our strengths and weaknesses to the situation at hand. We will inevitably experiment with different suggestions until we find a comfortable style of management.

There are ultimately three variables dictating our style of management:

  1. Our assigned duties and responsibilities which defines the scope of our management authority, and as such, our mission as manager.
  2. Available resources, both human and machine. The skills and proficiencies of our workers and equipment will play a significant role in the timely completion of work products. For humans we consider experience, performance, and skill set, which includes interpersonal relations (defining our socialization skills). For equipment, we primarily consider its limitations. As my old football coach was fond of saying, “A team is as strong as its weakest player.” If we have weak workers, we will need to improve their skills. If we have limited technology, we may need to consider upgrades. Of course, this depends on the availability of another type of resource, financial.
  3. The time allotted to demonstrate you are achieving your goal. For a single project, you will likely need to demonstrate the project is proceeding on time and within budget. For departmental management you will need to demonstrate it is under control and improving productivity. It is very important you understand the timing variable as it will greatly influence your style.

These three variables define the hand we are dealt; how we play the hand is then up to us. Some will become drunk with power and try to micromanage everything under the persona of Attila the Hun. Some will try to make use of carrot-and-stick techniques to encourage workers to perform better, and still others will allow workers to walk all over them.

As for me, I always had a strong sense of organization and communications. Standardized and reusable methodologies for conducting business are invaluable in terms of defining Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How, all of which improves communications and clearly delineates how work products are to be produced. Unlike micromanagement, I prefer managing from the bottom-up, whereby assignments are clearly defined and employees are then empowered to see the task through to completion themselves. Other than this, I monitor the operation and run interference to overcome obstacles and obstructions. In other words, I believe in spending less time supervising, and more time managing.

The point is, this is a style that works for me. It may or may not work for you. As to my young friend becoming a Project Manager, I admonished him that, until such time as he discovers his own style of management, I recommended he remain flexible, to adapt and adjust accordingly, study others (what works and what doesn’t), and learn more than teach. After all, stye comes with experience. As such, I advised him to learn everything he can about his niche of the business, be fair and honest, and lead by example. Never ask someone to do something you are not prepared to do yourself.

We must never forget human behavior rests at the heart of the science of management. It is not about technology, it is not about numbers, it is about people, which is why we call it “man”agement. Perhaps the best way to define it is “Management is getting people to do what you want, when you want to do it.” And it all begins with your style of management.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:

Like the article? TELL A FRIEND.

Tune into Tim’s THE BRYCE IS RIGHT! podcast Mondays-Fridays, 7:30am (Eastern).

Copyright © 2011 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Loss Of Tax Exempt Status Would Hurt American Freemasonry

The United States is still in the middle of the longest and deepest recession since the Depression of 1929. As unemployment seems to be stuck at close to 10% government tax revenues are down everywhere. The Federal government has borrowed some serious money from China.  Some state governments are in serious trouble, teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. California has, at times, issued I.O.U.’s in lieu of payment.

It is times like these that the government looks around for creative ways to finance itself. It cannot forever continue to borrow money, for lenders get nervous when the debt is substantial. It can come up with additional taxes, perhaps hidden so they are less noticeable if it is willing to endure the ire of American taxpayers.  Or government can close “loopholes” which translates into taking back discounts, privileges and exemptions.

As a member of a small Lodge that is filing for 501©3 tax status I have to wonder what would happen to American Freemasonry if the government removed all charitable and nonprofit status from it? No more 501©3 or other like exemptions, no more nonprofit status, no more special treatment.  Of course if this were undertaken Freemasonry would not be the only target.  Other like groups would suffer the same consequences as well as perhaps houses of worship.

If you think that is a far fetched idea that would never happen, then you need to know what has just happened to New Zealand Masons. After a year long battle New Zealand Freemasonry has given up fighting the government over the loss of its tax exempt status which it has held continuously since 1933.

Freemasons New Zealand appealed to the High Court last month, arguing that the Grand Lodge’s primary activities were “beneficial to the community” and therefore charitable.

As well as directly charitable activities such as university scholarships (which the commission conceded were charitable), the lodge also teaches public speaking and lessons on ethics to its members, which it argued should also be considered charitable.

Acting for the Crown, Tania Warburton argued that many of the activities of the Grand Lodge were primarily for the benefit of its members, not the entire community. She said its membership, limited to men over the age of 21 who reached the rank of master mason, was too exclusive for a charity.

Judge Simon France rejected the Freemasons’ appeal. He concluded that the activities of the Grand Lodge, and freemasonry in general, “do not benefit the public other than indirectly and intangibly by seeking to produce members who are better citizens”.

Laurence Milton, the grand secretary for Freemasons New Zealand, said the decision meant the Grand Lodge would have to apply for separate charitable status for its Fund of Benevolence, which did most of its charitable work.

The administration and other activities of the Grand Lodge would now be subject to tax.

You can read the rest of that story here.

I can see it know.  A high level prosecutor brings American Freemasons into court and charges them with primarily benefiting their own members.  Furthermore he or she charges that most of these benefits do not apply to children or women.

Once the door is opened for the removal of tax exempt, nonprofit status from American Freemasonry it might also open the door for the filing of discrimination and Civil Rights suits because membership is only available to men.  Now wouldn’t that be a bloody awful mess?

Playing by the Rules

Whether in business or a nonprofit organization there will be instances where you will inevitably be warned to “play by the rules.” I have heard this in just about every company I’ve consulted with, as well as the many different nonprofit organizations I have participated in over the years. Basically, it is a thinly veiled warning not to disrupt the status quo or face the consequences. It is essentially no different than saying “Do it our way or else.” Interestingly, I have discovered people either don’t know what the rules are, misinterpret them, or know them too well.

Playing by the rules doesn’t necessarily mean following the written rules, policies and procedures as defined in a formal document such as a policy manual or a set of governing docs such as bylaws. More likely it means to conform to the wishes and whims of the current regime. Volunteer organizations in particular can easily become political snake pits. One of the things you discover early on, it’s not a matter what the governing docs say as much as it is about who interprets them. Regardless of the clarity of the language, the rules will be interpreted by those in charge. Not surprising, those who admonish us to play by the rules are the same people who control them thereby turning them into a political football.

It is not uncommon to discover there are probably more unwritten rules than written. The sooner you learn them, the better. This is, of course, all a part of learning and adapting to the corporate culture. The written rules may say one thing, the unwritten rules may mean something entirely different and probably carry more weight. Too many times I have seen procedures clearly written one way, yet when I ask about them, I am told “We haven’t done it that way in years.”

As a systems man, I learned a long time ago to consult with secretaries and clerks when trying to figure out an existing system. The documentation may say one thing (if any), but the operational people know how things are really run. It kind of makes you wonder why organizations invest in developing policies and procedures if nobody is expected to follow them. In all likelihood it is to create a legal escape hatch in the event of when push comes to shove.

People will pay little attention to rules that are unfairly interpreted. In fact, they will go out of their way to subvert them, and why not? If the current regime demonstrates unethical behavior, their subordinates or constituents in all likelihood will follow suit. Again, this is all part of the corporate culture.

Getting people to conform to the formal written policies and procedures takes an individual with unusual strength of character, who understands the necessity of conformity, and interprets the rules fairly. Such people of integrity are unfortunately becoming few and far between.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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Copyright © 2010 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Social Media & the Non-Profit – How Social Media is vital to fraternities

A few weeks back we explored the ideas of Social Media as it intersected with Secret Societies, creating the shift from restricted knowledge to an open communication in the 21st century -ciphers replaced with pixels and WYSIWYG editors.  Today, Social Media has surpassed the expectations of those who declared it a passing trend and it has become a vital component of any individual or business that wants to build their brand and broadcast their message to an ever increasing audience.

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This is more than Mafia Wars, Bejeweled, or What famous actor are you test.  This is the creation and delivery of a messages and content that readers will grow to trust, will grow to rely upon, and will look to for opinion.

In other words, Social Media is not going away and that both For Profits and Non Profits need to understand the important role it plays in communicating their unique brand message.  Why is participating in Social media important?  By participating, organizations are able to project their own message and content and have conversations with other people about it.

Joining us this week on Masonic Central are two guests who are experts in the field of Social Media and Marketing Communication:

Br. Giles Crouch who has nearly 20 years of marketing communications experience, is co-founded of MediaBadger, a Social Media & Web PR firm. He is an active Mason for 10 years, and is presently Worshipful Master of Ad Astra Lodge in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Br. Glen Gilmore, better known in social media circles as “Trend Tracker.”.  Glen is a social media consultant who is currently listed in the “Top 100 Twitter Elite” as established by TwitterGrader.  He is one of the most followed people on Twitter focusing on the subject of social media.  He serves as the Social Media Director for the New Jersey Hall of Fame.  Glen has been a Mason for over 20 years and is also a member of the Scottish Rite.

Brothers Giles and Glen will compare notes with Dean and Greg on the growing role of Social Media’s message and brand building power and why it is a vital component to every non-profits strategy to connect with the world.

Join us for this special hour and a half long program on Masonic Central this Sunday, August 30th starting at 6pm PDT/9pm EST. For your questions and comments to the guest live on the air call: (347) 677-0936 during the program.

Also you can listen to the program live from our home at Masonic Central on Blog Talk Radio and join in with our live program chat, or from our player widget on our website at Freemason Information.